Psychological stress as a factor potentially contributing to the pathogenesis of Type 1 diabetes mellitus

J Endocrinol Invest. 2008 May;31(5):406-15. doi: 10.1007/BF03346384.


Diabetes mellitus Type 1 (T1D) is an autoimmune disorder attributed to both genetic and environmental factors. The aim of this study was to identify certain stressful conditions potentially associated with the pathogenesis and/or expression of T1D. The study group included 107 children with diabetes (CD) and 153 controls of comparable age and gender distribution at diagnosis of T1D (10.73+/-3.62 yr vs 9.59 +/-3.42 yr, respectively). The parents of both groups completed a questionnaire on socioeconomic status and stressful life events or adverse situations at home and school.

Results: Lower social class was more prevalent among the mothers of CD (p=0.002) in comparison with the controls. Stressful life events (parental death, divorce, parental job loss), problems at home (parental abuse, parental dispute) and at school (poor performance) were more frequently observed in the CD group than in the controls (parental death: p=0.05, job loss: p=0.05, parental abuse: p=0.002, quarrels between parents: p=0.05, and among siblings p=0.002, poor school performance: p=0.037). A stepwise logistic regression analysis indicated that lower maternal social class [odds ratio (OR): 3.86, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.37,10.9], parental dispute or divorce (OR: 2.78, 95%CI: 0.97,7.95), body mass index (OR: 0.87, 95%CI: 0.78,0.97), increasing age (OR: 1.14, 95%CI: 1.02,1.27) were the factors potentially influencing the occurrence of T1D, while the 2-yr period prior to diabetes occurrence emerged as the most important one (OR: 2.49, 95%CI: 1.14,5.42).

Conclusion: Children with diabetes seem to experience certain stressful conditions with significantly increased frequency compared to controls, especially during the 2 yr preceding the diagnosis of T1D, with a higher clustering in those of lower social class. The resultant stress possibly contributes to the development of T1D in genetically susceptible individuals.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Social Class
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*